- The purpose of this note is limited to commenting upon the draft Treaty on Nonproliferation1 and on some of the possible courses of action in regard to that Treaty. Some background matters are touched upon, but it is emphasised that this note does not purport to be a review of Australian policy in regard to nuclear weapons.
- China constitutes a special problem for Australia as a potentially hostile nuclear power in our area of interest. The problem remains irrespective of whether or not China is a party to the Treaty.
- The following paragraphs indicate very briefly the background relevant to a consideration of the purposes and provisions of the Treaty.
- Not all military applications of nuclear energy are weapons. A particularly important application is to ship and submarine propulsion.
- Nuclear weapons are not necessarily offensive weapons, e.g. anti-ballistic missile systems under examination rely on nuclear warheads to stop the incoming missile.
- Nuclear weapons are in two distinct categories depending on fission and fusion respectively. The latter are generally mass destruction weapons. Apart from the mass destruction weapons, there are many tactical devices, including anti-submarine weapons, demolition stores, etc. The draft Treaty does not distinguish between the two categories.
- There is no evidence that the manufacture of a significant number of nuclear weapons would be beyond the capacity of a medium sized nation. One large nation (China) has built bombs and another (India) has progressed some way in that direction with a national economy under-developed and in bad shape.
Text of the Treaty
- We are aware, through our contacts in London and Washington, that there is some informed opinion to the effect that the interests of the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively, would be better served by their allies having independent nuclear capability and that the attainment of such capability would be practicable for a country like Australia. These views are, of course, contrary to the Government view and policy in each case. However, the possibility that these policies could change should perhaps be borne in mind.
- […] non-nuclear states forego the option to manufacture or seek assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. However, the Treaty does not specifically prohibit the preparation for manufacture, as distinct from manufacture. In the absence of a definition of the terms used a range of interpretations is possible.
- It is possible to argue that the construction or acquisition of plant for manufacturing weapon-grade fissile material is not weapon manufacture. This might be extended to say that the manufacture of weapon-grade fissile material is not weapon manufacture, and perhaps further extended to permit the manufacture of components almost up to the point of final assembly.
- Australia is in a unique position in regard to the development and testing of nuclear weapons in that:
- a number of nuclear explosions took place in Australia with Australian collaboration prior to January 1, 1967;
- a number of other tasks which were part of a nuclear weapon programme, but which did not involve nuclear explosions, were undertaken in Australia with Australian collaboration.
- It appears that one possibility is for Australia to claim, on the basis of what we have done in the past, the right to sign as a nuclear State.
Possible Australian Action
- Possible actions for Australia include:
- sign a treaty broadly on the lines of the draft;
- enter the debate with a view to evolving a draft more in line with Australian interests;
- play a passive role, at least for the present, if it can be expected that the objections of countries like West Germany, India and Japan would in any case cause abandonment or radical alteration of the present draft;
- decline to be a signatory;
- sign as a nuclear State;
- noting that:
- the only part of the Preamble agreed by all concerned is the desirability of easing international tension, and
- the critical points of tension are those between the nuclear powers rather than those between the non-nuclear powers
suggest that the nuclear powers might conclude an agreement between themselves with such provisions as they can agree upon.
Notes on the Nuclear Capability of Possible Signatories
The requirements of any country which wishes to embark on a nuclear weapon programme may be summarized as follows:
- an adequate source of safeguarded uranium;
- a means of converting uranium into fissile material in sufficient quantities, i.e. a means of separating uranium 235 from uranium 238, or a nuclear reactor fuelled with natural or low-enriched uranium plus a processing plant which can separate plutonium from residual uranium and fission products;
- ability to design and fabricate a nuclear device;
- a suitable test site.
- Safeguards have been concerned mainly with plutonium production since this is a byproduct of power reactors. Many countries who have power reactors could accumulate stocks of plutonium provided that they process their own fuel. But since plutonium will be the seed fuel for the second generation power stations, there is a valid reason for those countries which are technically capable of it to develop their own plutonium separation plants. However the possibility of countries developing U235 weapons cannot be overlooked. The trend in power reactor design is towards reactors which use fuel enriched to about 1-3 per cent U235, and it is to be expected that some countries will want to develop uranium enrichment plants. It is likely that gas ultracentrifuges could be developed to achieve the low enrichments required for commercial reactors at costs comparable with ruling U.S. prices. Once it achieved this capability a country could proceed to full enrichment with little difficulty, a token weapon capability could be achieved in this way at relatively low cost, and possibly covertly. The problem of delivery vehicles is not discussed here, since this varies according to the purpose for which the weapon is developed, but it may be noted that the cost and difficulty of developing and producing delivery vehicles might well exceed that of the nuclear weapons themselves.
- The Indian nuclear programme has been designed as a peaceful programme but it also provides all of the requirements for a weapon programme.
India probably already has sufficient weapon-grade plutonium for two or three explosions and could continue to produce sufficient for one or two weapons per year.
- The overall programme is comprehensive and well planned and there is little doubt that technical capability is available to launch a modest nuclear weapon programme if the decision was taken.
India could test a device within twelve months of taking the decision to do so, if she did not wish to break the Test Ban Treaty, of which she is a signatory, she could develop suitable underground test facilities without undue difficulty.
- Japan's aim appears to be to develop a wide range of competence in peaceful applications especially power production. The assurance and speed with which Japanese firms have planned reactor projects since 1965 (expected to generate 1,000 megawatts by 1970 and more than 9,000 megawatts by 1975) indicates that in the future, nuclear industry in Japan will be a major one.
- At present the announced aim of the Japanese is to develop an autonomous nuclear programme, which will make them one of the larger users of nuclear power in the World. The only current limitation (other than a political decision) on Japan's using her nuclear facilities to develop nuclear weapons is her lack of assured supplies of uranium. (After fairly extensive prospecting only limited deposits of low grade ore have been discovered, the current drive to establish stockpiles of uranium by importation emphasises the importance of this limitation.) If a decision were made Japan could develop a nuclear weapon in four to five years.
- Israel's nuclear research programme appears to be designed to support either power or weapons production. The reactor at Dimona is reported to have a thermal power of 25-40 megawatts and its operation is kept very secure. Uranium has been obtained from Argentina, apparently free from safeguards, and a plutonium separation plant is believed to be operating in association with the reactor. It is possible that Israel is now producing weapon-grade plutonium sufficient for one or two low yield weapons per year. Given a decision, Israel could develop an explodable nuclear device in one to two years.
- The Canadian nuclear programme is soundly based on very large deposits of uranium and a high degree of competence in reactor design. No attempt has been made to develop a plutonium separation plant since the Canadian reactor design philosophy is based on nonreusable fuel. The used fuel is however stored and the plutonium could be extracted at some future date if required. The lack of this plant and the associated lack of experience with plutonium technology would add some years to the time taken for Canada to develop a nuclear weapon but would not be an insurmountable problem. Suitable test sites for underground tests would be available.
[NAA: A1838, TS919/10/5 part 1]